Korean War Legacy Project

Frederick Marso


Frederick Marso and his friend dropped out of high school at age nineteen in 1952 to join the United States Navy. He was inspired to join the cause in Korea after learning about it in school from a teacher. He later went back to high school in 1955 after being discharged. He describes his job duties as a part of the Underwater Demolition Team aboard his ship. He recalls what it was like living upon a ship. He never stepped foot on Korean soil during the war, serving on water for the war’s entirety. He describes his pride in contributing to South Korea’s success today.


Video Clips

Life with Underwater Demolition

Frederick Marso describes his job responsibilities as a part of the Underwater Demolition Team. He describes the training as tough and his platoon being the cream of the crop. He details everyday life living on a ship for an extended period of time.

Tags: East Sea,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Weapons

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An Education in Warfare

Frederick Marso describes learning about Korea from a high school teacher. His teacher was a WWII veteran and educated his classes about the conflict occurring between North and South Korea. He expands that this contributed to him wanting to enlist in the United States Navy.

Tags: Home front,Prior knowledge of Korea

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Sacrifice for the Future

Frederick Marso reflects on his pride towards his service and efforts in the Korean War. He elaborates on how well South Korea has done for itself. He reflects on the sacrifices close friends made during their time in Korea together.

Tags: Modern Korea,Personal Loss,Pride

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]

F:         My name is Frederick, F R E D I C K  N. M A R S O, Marso.

I:          Great.  And when were you born, and where were you born?

F:         I was born September 7, 1934, a little town east of here, 34 miles, Harrold, South Dakota.

I:          Great.  And could you tell me about your family at the time?

F:         Well, my married family or home family?

I:          Home family.


F:         Well, I was the third of, or I’m sorry.  I was the fourth of five children.  Two of my brothers have been, are deceased.  One of my sisters is deceased.  It’s just been a up and down seesaw affair


for us.

I:          And.

F:         My, my older brother and my younger brother are both gone.  Younger brother and I were fighting a prairie fire 27 miles east of here, and a fire truck rolled over on him, died.  So, we celebrated his accident here the 12thof this month.  So it was a, it was a sad


deal, and he left behind a wife and two children.  But he loved what he was doing, and he done it well.

I:          Great to hear.  Did you graduate high school?

F:         I did.  I quit school the, excuse me, the sixth month of my Junior year, went into the service with a friend of mine, and when I



got discharged in 1955, I went back to Pierre High School and finished my Senior year.

I:          Oh, that’s wonderful.

F:         I was, I was probably as old as one of my teachers. Yeah, but I, I did get my education, and I was gonna go on to college, and then I decided no, I’m gonna get into business first.  Then maybe I’ll go.  Well, I, you know how that goes.  I never did go to college.


I:          So why did you and your buddy decide to enlist, and how old were you?

F:         Nineteen, barely.  Well, we were having a little bit of problem in school, and we’d skip a lot of classes, and we’d go down and shoot pool.  We were supposed to be studying.  Anyway, and Dell was a very good friend of mine, and we just decided that we


weren’t learning anything in high school.  Why don’t we go somewhere and try to learn something else?  So we went into the Navy.

I:          And did you know that you were going to go to Korea at the time?

F:         No, I didn’t.

I:          Did you know about Korea at all?

F:         Oh yeah.

I:          How did you know about Korea?

F:         Well, we had a, a teacher, Aeronautics teacher by the name of Jack Robinson, very, very


intelligent person. He was a B17 pilot during the second World War, and he versed us about everything, at least three times a week, about what was going on in Korea.  And, I mean that, that brought us to the point where we knew what was going on, you know, but not, not all of the particulars, but we didn’t know about what was going on over there, and we wanted to help out in any way we could.


So we did.

I:          So you decided to enlist because you wanted, of course you were having trouble in school, but also because you wanted to help.

F:         Right.

I:          in Korea.

F:         Right.  Right.

I:          Wow.  So where did you get basic military training?

F:         We took ours in San Diego.

I:          Were you at Pendleton?

F:         No, no.  We were across. No.  We could hear the Marines over there, but we were on the other side of the Bay. [laughs] Now, they were, they were a noisy bunch.  We were the quiet ones.


I:          Yeah.  So when did you leave for Korea?

F:         Uh, December 20, December 24thof ’52.

I:          You left the day before Christmas?

F:         Well, we had a very fine Christmas dinner aboard ship.  Let’s put it that way.


And, uh, yeah. It was, it was just one of those things. I mean, you went where you told you to, and you didn’t have too much to say about it.  But one thing I have to get straight is my feet never touched Korean soil.  We were off shore all the time.  We were, we were off shore, well, we were on, on the water four weeks out of six.


And that, that just seems like a long, long time to be out there just putzing around, you know.

I:          Where were you area wise near the Peninsula?

F:         We, we went to, we went to Yokosuka, Japan to unload, excuse me, to unload air, new jets that we were carrying from the States, and we picked those up in Oakland,


California, uh, put them on the Carrier, took them to Yokosuka, Japan where they were offloaded, and then we took troops over as well.  So we were, I call it a shuttle service is about what it amounted to.  But, uh, yeah we, we, we, uh, it seems like all of my friends that I was in


with are gone now, and this is from, uh, asbestos.  So I don’t suppose I’m gonna be around another 30, 40 years, hopefully.

I:          So what was your unit?

F:         Uh, I was with a, uh, Lieutenant John J.Leehoy,



and he was a Marine Lieutenant, and he started one of the first, uh, UDT teams, Underwater Demolition Teams, and we, uh, we, we kind of got, we were kind of the cream of the crop because, you know, we got, uh, we got to go up and use all of the, uh, new weapons and everything.  We’d fire those off


the fantail of the ship, and that man was, ugh.  He would throw a five gallon, uh, milk can out in the water, and he’d wait till it got to the crest of a wave, you can just barely see the thing, and he’d, he’d plunk that thing. I mean, and he taught us all how to shoot, and throw grenades. He taught us wiring.  He taught us everything there was to know, yeah.  And he was a great man I thought.  Some of the guys didn’t like him


because he was too strict, and said well, if you don’t like it, get out.  Do something else.  Go paint the side of the ship or something.  So, well, no.  Lieutenant Leehoy was great to us.  And we enjoyed him, and, and I, hopefully I can say he enjoyed us.

I:          So what was your daily routine like?

F:         Well, uh, when we were steaming, we had to be ready


for anything that came up anytime.  And the, uh, the one main thing was I was on a twin 40 mm first loader, and we did a lot of practicing, and I’m still hearing things, uh.  We didn’t have earplugs.  We didn’t have cotton.


We didn’t have anything to put in our ears, and we were right up there, you know, and.  But anyway, we would have practice three times a week, and on Wednesday afternoon we did absolutely nothing.  The whole ship was just [MAKES NOISE] except those people on watch.  But Wednesday afternoon was what they called a ropey iron Sunday, and we could, if you wanted to go lay in the sun, we went and laid


in the sun.  If, then, well, we couldn’t go anyplace, walk from one end of the flight deck to the other.  That was about all.  But we, we did, we all had duties, uh, during the course of the day, uh.  Some of us wanted to learn how to cook.  Some of us wanted to learn how to be, uh, better, a better person.  We attended a lot of classes aboard ship.

I:          What kind of classes?

F:         Well, we had kind of, just about like a Senior, Senior, uh, year at school.


We had Geography. We had History.  We had, uh, Health, and there was one other, but I don’t remember what it was.  But we had, uh, some of the Lieutenant JGs were, uh, a couple of them were teachers before they went into the service, so, yeah, we had, we had a nice, a nice deal.


I:          What were living conditions like?

F:         Crowded.  Very crowded. If you think a carrier would have plenty of room for all the personnel.  But it was a converted liberty ship is what it was, a transport ship, and they put a

flight deck on it and


a superstructure and called it a carrier, and it was, yeah, you get 50, 40, 50 men in one compartment, you know, and it’s.  One thing about it, you kept clean because if you didn’t, somebody cleaned you up.

I:          Um.

F:         It was just crowded enough, you know, to where, and we all felt the same way.  There’s no sense of being dirty when you’re, you got a shower right there.  What the heck.  Use it.  That’s what it’s for.

I:          Did you ever get seasick?


F:         Oh, yes.  I did.  I, believe it or not, San Francisco was here, Oakland is over here.  There’s about 10 miles in between them on the Bay, and we had to go from this side to that side, one time.  We had to go over and, uh, for minor repairs at Todd Shipyards on the San Francisco side.


And you, my first, first time on a moving ship like that.  Boats I had been on, but never a ship.  So I stood up back in the fantail, and I’m watching the screws churn up all this water, you know, and it’s just boiling out of there, and I, that’s the only time I got seasick.

I:          So never when you were stationed in Korea?

F:         [SHAKES HEAD] We, uh, one, one thing that I’m


thankful for, uh, is some of the troops that we were carrying to go to Korea, excuse me, were Navy Corpsmen, and I came down with Appendicitis, and we were about six days out of Japan, and they had to do emergency surgery on me.  We had a doctor, and we had a dentist aboard, and


they, the Corpsmen, they told me because I had 21 shots of Novocain in my back, then they gave me a spinal, and then they had to give me some Sodium Penathol I believe it was, to knock me out because the spinal was wearing off.  And I knew what they were doing.  The doctor said well, if you want to you can watch this.  Eh, not all of it, no.  So I did watch a little bit and then it started wearing off.


They gave me the Sodium Penathol.  They gave me an overdose.  I was out for three days, and they thought they had lost me.  But in the long run, you know, it was, it was kind of a blessing that I was out because we, we were in the tail end of a typhoon when I, when I had my appendix out, and one of my buddies was the radio operator, and he was also in charge of taking pictures of the storm.


And he was out on the fantail, last one to come back into the ship, and Clyde was out there taking pictures, and we’d get up on this wave and we’d roll down.  And I guess everybody aboard ship was made at me because the ship had to slow down so much so they could do the surgery.

I:          Oh wow.  It was necessary.

F:         It was.  Yes.

I:          So were you ever attacked when you were on your ship?


F:         No, no.  Uh, we, like I say, we were always prepared.  But nothing like that ever happened.

I:          Were you ever in combat or in a battle?

F:         No.  We just, we did firing is all we did, but we never, nobody ever shot back at us.  We were the fortunate ones I guess.  And it was


oh, I can’t say it was fun because it wasn’t.  But it was an experience.  To this day, there are still people right here in Pierre that don’t want to believe it.  They don’t want to believe that there was a war over there.  They just kind of shrug it off, you know.  It’s, no, it’s just your imagination.


And if it was a war, it wasn’t worth anything.  Well, it was worth something.  It was worth a great deal to a lot of people, especially the South.  It’s just like the North and the South fighting here in the States.  One of those things.  Yeah, it, uh, we just called it a nasty business, nasty mess.  It’s the way we looked at it.  And people just,


Maybe they knew about it and they didn’t want to admit it.  I don’t know.  So.

I:          Did you ever have any contact with anyone that was on the Mainland?

F:         Uh, we did get a Marine that transferred from North Korea down South Korea, and we picked him up.  They, they motored him out to the carrier, and


he was a full blooded Comanche Indian, and they called him Teddy, and he had a very bad habit. He was a souvenir hunter, and he was take the top off of the ear, and he had those in his locker, and oh, what a stench.


They finally made him get rid of them because of the health hazard.  And I used to pull [INAUDIBLE] with him in the States, and it was just, the man was a fighter.  A natural born fighter, and anybody looked cross-eyed at him, and he was ready to do battle with them, and I, I finally had to stop going on liberty with him because he was just getting


too out of hand. I, I guess he had, uh, uh, PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I:          Yep.

F:         And, well a lot of us have got that.  But yeah, his was really bad.  But that’s the only one that I was in contact with that was on the mainland.

I:          Did he tell you any stories that you remember?

F:         Uh, he told me a lot of stories, stories that I don’t want to repeat.


Stories about his buddies, excuse me, stories about his buddies he went over with and never came back with, and, uh, but he said it was just a hell of a place to be.  That’s the way he put it.  May I?


I:          What do you think was, what, what do you think was the most difficult or dangerous thing that you experienced while you were in Korea?

F:         Well, we did have a, another vessel ram ours. That put the fear of God into everybody


We had no idea, it happened about 2:30 in the morning, and nobody knows where that ship came from, and there wasn’t, they weren’t too sure who it belonged to.  That was the sad part of it.  And the scary part, you know.  But, uh, we, we had, we had a ship drill right then that was not a drill.  I mean it was the real thing,


and, and we didn’t, we didn’t know about who was on that ship or anything about it because they gave no warning, no, nothing.  And everybody felt well, what a time, what a way to get woke up 2:30 in the morning.

I:          So what did the ship do?

F:         It ran into us broadside.  We were, we were traveling towards the east, and it came in at an angle here at the bow


and sheared off our anchor, a 10-ton anchor, just like you’d chop a stick of butter, and it took out three of the gun tubs under the flight deck, and it, uh, yeah.  We limped back, but every, everybody was okay.  I got thrown out of my bunk and hit the bulkhead, fell on the deck, and


luckily, if I’d a thought I’d have brought some pictures along, luckily I didn’t land on the piece of steel that was protruding up, it had come up like this out of the deck, and I was right beside it.  It, it, yeah, that was, that was a, that was a close call for me.

I:          Do you remember when this was?

F:         April, April ’53.  April ’52 or April ’53.  I think it was April ’53.


And it was, it made a lot of noise.  Everybody got jitters over it, you know.  We didn’t know if we were being barded, if we were gonna have to fight or what we were gonna do.  The ship’s just kind of went their own direction then.  They did track down the ship later on,


and it was a, uh, I want to say Spanish but that wasn’t it.  Uh, that’s immaterial.

I:          So were you lonely ever?  Did you write back to home?

F:         Oh yeah.  I wrote my folks about, uh,


well, at least two letters every three weeks.  Sometimes I’d write them one every week.  But this Clyde I was telling you about, the radio operator, I went up into the radio shack one night, and I started typing a letter to my folks, and it was just like a scroll.  It was 20, by the time I got done, which was, oh, I don’t know how many hours it


took, but it was double spaced, it was 27 foot long, and when my mother passed away, I think my older sister got that letter.  But it was, yeah, I mean we just sat there and we’d visit and type for a little bit and visit some more and type a little bit more. I don’t remember, like I said, I don’t remember how many hours it took, and it was fun doing it, too.  And when we got back in San Francisco a few months later,


I called home, and Mom said well son, that was quite a letter we got.  She said I think you told us everything from the day you went into the service and up until the time you wrote the letter. [LAUGHS]

I:          So when did you leave Korea?

F:         Well let’s see. I left Korea in ’54, first part of ’55,


and I went to Guam to finish out my tour, and I was on Guam for a few months and then come back for discharge.

I:          When were you discharged?

F:         Uh, wait a minute August 16 of ’55.

I:          When you left Korea, what did you think?  Did you have any hope for its future?


F:         Uh, yes I did.  The, uh, from, from what we had heard, scuttlebutt aboard ship from the officers, uh, what a, what a terrible time the South Koreans were having, and they said they, they wondered if South Korea would ever be able to recover, and they have.  They have.


I:          Tell me how that makes you feel about your service.

F:         Pardon?

I:          Tell me how that makes you feel about your service.

F:         It makes me feel good because I know that we contributed, uh, by not, not lobbing grenades at somebody, not shooting at somebody, but delivering the raw materials that they needed, the essentials, excuse me.


Uh, and new jets. We would take 30, 37 new jets at a time. We didn’t have room for them in the hanger deck, so they all had to go on the flight deck.  We’d chain them down and everything.  But yeah, it, it made us all feel good knowing that we were contributing something, whether we were, had our feet on the soil or


whether we were doing it from out in the water.  Ah, one, we took a bunch of Air Force personnel over one time.  This one kid in particular, I felt so sorry for him.  As soon as the ship started to move, he was seasick, and that poor young man was seasick


for, I think it was 13 or 14 days we were out at sea, maybe it was 16.  Anyway

I:          A Korean boy or a

F:         No, he was a U.S. boy.

I:          Okay.

F:         And we were taking them over, and he was sick all that time.  He never left the men’s room. His buddies would take him down crackers and 7 Up. That’s, that’s all the kid ate for two weeks, and he was just [NOISES] barfing all the time.


I often wondered, I’ve often thought about that kid, and thought wow, he must have had it tough.

I:          And he, he was stationed on mainland?

F:         Yeah.  He was at one of the air bases there, uh.  I don’t know which, which one.  But yeah. He, there was, uh, we took


I believe there were 78 airmen and 240 Marines and a few Army officers on that.

I:          So are you proud of your service?

F:         I am.

I:          Would you do it again?

F:         I would.  I would do it in a heartbeat.

I:          Do you have any final message that you want to leave about Korea


and your service?

F:         Well, I’m very happy to see that Korea is progressing as great as they are, and it, when the, when the Korean delegation was here and gave us


the Peace Medals, that, that put such a lump in all the guys’ throats, uh.  I mean, it was just, it was just great that they thought about us, and we think well what, what can we do in return, and they, they say nothing, nothing.  You did it. Well, okay, we did it, which was nice,


and my part of the, being in the service, uh, like I said earlier, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not only was it an experience, uh, but I thought that my little bit that I did helped somebody put their feet on the ground, and they didn’t have to look behind them to see who was coming up.  I mean, it wasn’t a great deal


I did, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

[End of Recorded Material]